On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Making of the nation is the work of all races

Since last month, senior Umno leaders had dropped hints that the party polls, scheduled for November 2007, would be deferred. 

By postponing the party elections, the Umno leadership would be able to reduce the tension in the party, particularly the intense campaigning and even the wide use of money.  

In many cases, the heated campaigns have degenerated into open conflicts that would make the healing of wounds difficult, particularly in states like Kelantan and Terengganu, where the voting margins in general elections are narrow. 

Already the opposition, especially PAS and Parti Keadilan Nasional, has become more confident, believing that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has done the job for them with his continuous criticism against Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. 

There is damage, without doubt, and the Barisan coalition certainly has plenty of repair work to do ahead of the general election. 

No one, however, expects Abdullah to call the general election in the coming few months. The political climate at this point is hardly conducive.  

While the economy is strong, particularly in the commodities sector, the general sentiment among ordinary Malaysians is that they do not feel there is a buoyant economy. 

Money is tight and there are many unhappy people around with loud complaints against the Government. 

Despite the hype about the Ninth Malaysia Plan where RM210bil would be spent, the people want to see actual projects being carried out before they are convinced. The many grim-faced contractors in Umno want to hold the offer letters and voters want to see the signboards put up, announcing these projects at the sites, before they can be convinced.  

There would be spillover effects benefiting the people once these projects are rolled out, and the 810 projects named so far are only the preliminary ones.  

A large section of the Chinese voters, who are crucial voters in seats tightly fought between Umno and PAS, are still not in a forgiving mood. Many of these urban voters are still hurt by insensitive remarks made by certain Umno politicians. 

They feel they have been unfairly made the scapegoats in the political crisis – primarily involving Umno leaders – and that their solid backing for Umno candidates in the 1999 election, when Umno was challenged strongly, had been taken for granted, even forgotten. 

Many Umno personalities pulled through with three-digit margins following a strong challenge from the opposition and for these Chinese voters, any suggestion that the Chinese would take advantage of a weak Umno is unacceptable. 

While older Chinese voters understand the necessity of affirmative action and the need for a balanced society, the new generation of younger voters, including first-time voters, may need more persuasion. 

From the availability of places in universities to the implementation of certain government policies, the MCA and Gerakan would surely have a tougher job explaining government policies in the next election. 

No one questions the distribution of wealth and the restructuring of society but when the policy is perceived to benefit even the wealthy and politically-connected, then it is hard to placate those who find themselves shut out of the system. 

But deliver the votes the MCA and Gerakan must. The political structure is such that any punishment meted on MCA and Gerakan candidates would only erode the position of Chinese representatives in the Government.  

There is plenty to be done to pacify these angry Chinese voters in predominantly Chinese areas. For a start, Barisan politicians, regardless of their political parties, need to be more cautious in their statements. Assurances and promises may help in the short run but, ultimately, we need to re-examine policies and decisions that have made some sections of Malaysians feel uncomfortable, even lose out unfairly. 

But it must be stressed that some decisions, perceived to be discriminatory, are merely unilateral decisions, whether at local government or university level, and not even the policies of the Government. 

Chinese politicians, too, must appreciate that they need the Malay votes to win if they are being challenged by the DAP and Keadilan. It is these crucial Malay votes that will swing the results. 

There is room only for champions of Malaysians, not the champions of singular communities. The days of making statements to different audiences, via different language newspapers, are over. If apoliticians think they can get away with it, they had better think twice. 

One year is just about sufficient. It is more reasonable to expect Abdullah to call for the elections in 2008, with at least 12 months for him to prepare the ground for a big win. 

He has to win massively again, as he did in 2004 when the Barisan won 199 of the 219 parliamentary seats. He has to prove that the attacks by Dr Mahathir have not threatened his grip on power and that his predecessor's attempt to question his legitimacy as Prime Minister has not worked. 

As the country celebrates its 50th Merdeka anniversary, the timing is right to bring Malaysians together. It is time to emphasise that the making of Malaysia is the work of all races.  

Malaysia is our home and any reference to any community as an immigrant race, no matter how subtle, would not be tolerated. Any politician who utters such nonsense should be shut out. 

No Malaysian, regardless of his race, should be made to feel that he is treated differently and as we approach the 50th Merdeka and next general election, the time has come for us to take the right steps to make all Malaysians lift their heads high. 

There must be a greater willingness to examine the fundamentals of our economic system as protectionist trade barriers come down and the global market economy becomes more competitive. 

It is no longer about which race should get what slice of the pie but making sure that Malaysians would still get the pie. Decades ago, it was fashionable for politicians to talk about the equity shares of each ethnic group but we had better wake up to the fact that our economic competitors are out there, not among ourselves in Malaysia. 

Politicians will have plenty to say in the run-up to the general election but let's hear fresh ideas and approaches. Most of all, we don't need any communal slant to any issue.